Graham Sowa

Photo: Caridad

HAVANA TIMES, Jan 15 — Last week I was interviewed, in Cuba, for the first time by United States based media.  Granted, my interviewers were students from the State University of New York at Stony Brook, but they came equipped like professionals:  reporter pads, audio recorders, and a video camera.

I was being interviewed by Ethan.  He was wearing a white t-shirt and jeans that were very blue but strategically torn in a stylish fashion. His hair was cut short and his shoes were the no-lace type of canvas shoes that seem to have replaced the utilitarian Converse.

Ethan did very little writing on his reporters pad, apparently relying on the recorder to capture our exchange.  A couple of professors traveling with the students would periodically interject into our back-and-forth.

I tried to start the interview by asking what brought them to Cuba.  I was quickly returned the question by one of the professors and from there Ethan got right to his object:  internet in Cuba.

Contrary to what I have written before on Havana Times, I took a very defensive role right away.

I didn’t feel like my interviewer had done enough homework to be asking me these questions.  I felt like his conclusions were long decided and he was looking to justify them, to give examples to his assumptions.

So instead I tried to add as much context to my answers as I could. This did little to curtail his pursuit of specific examples of how lack of internet in Cuba hurt freedom of speech, my studies, or civil society (not an exhaustive list).

I don’t disagree with Cubans who have complaints about their lack of internet access because I feel like their stories and experiences are contextualized.  Their anecdotes are products of their experiences.

However I’m not as generous with foreigners and our agenda laden baggage as we pass judgment on Cuba’s internet situation.  Perhaps this is because I have not decided myself if the lack of internet access is, or is not, justified by the reasons given.

I don’t know if I believe that the Revolutionary project is really dependent on having such tight control over access to information.  As someone who has lived here for almost two years and still unable to decide on such things I was loath to give the answers away so easily to someone I felt had not the intellectual footwork that I had in struggling with these questions.

For me the problem largely comes down to my urge to avoid hypocrisy. How can I feel superior enough in my ideology about the universal goodness of free speech when airwaves and cables in the United States are controlled by the Federal Communications Commission and corporate interests?  The current debate over net-neutrality threatens even more involved government and corporate control.

My country has an unaddressed communications development gap between those who live in areas affluent enough to be provided with high speed internet access (and even then they must be able to pay for it) with the tens of millions who do not even yet have the option to get internet service via a mobile device.

Why was Ethan not stressing over these issues? What about American companies like Google and their complicity in web censorship in China?

Most of us seem to either not care or easily accept whatever explanation is given by the powers that be whenever these questions are asked.  We fail to realize that the limited internet access in

Cuba is not a moral anomaly nor does it occur in a vacuum.

My questions are not meant to result in a lengthy bout of staring at our navels, besieged by our subjectivity.  Rather I would like to see foreign journalists do a better job of contextualizing and researching

Cuba, as well as the topics they are reporting on from the island. For the past 50 years the news on (and in) Cuba has taken two clear positions: pro-Revolutionary and anti-Revolutionary.  The new generation of professional news writers does not need to follow this lead, no matter which side of the Straits of Florida they are writing from.


Graham Sowa: I've been living in Cuba for three years now. I would like to blame my obvious hair loss seen in this updated photo on the rigors of life here and medical school, but it is probably just genetic. I've made some of the strongest friendships during my time in Cuba from other writers on this website. The strength of those friendships has almost restored my faith that the online world can lead to offline and real life change. On that same note I've adjusted to using internet one or two hours a month. In the meantime I have rediscovered things like flipping through the pages of books, writing stuff down by hand, and having to admit that I don't know something instead of rapidly looking up the answer on Google while the teacher isn't looking.

6 thoughts on “My First Interview in Cuba

  • ” I have come to the conclusion that it is important to restrict the flow of “information” from those who oppose socialism. ”

    Bravo Elizabeth. That is exactly what happen in Cuba. No need to sweeten the reality, or talking about China, and trying to look for excuses. That is all.
    In Cuba the ideology in the power (socialism) does not give rights to the people that not share the Socialist idea. (No party, no publications, no internet, no rights)
    That is all. Simple.

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